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Mother and me

Ahead of Mother’s Day this Sunday, we celebrate motherhood in all its wonderful (and infuriating) glory, starting with Conor O’Neill’s heartfelt tribute to his mum

It can’t have been easy raising five kids, being a Saturday golf widow, living with depression and diabetes and working part-time as a dentist’s receptionist, but that’s exactly what my mum has pulled off for much of my 33 years.

Being the second of five children and the first-born son, my early years were as idyllic as any child could wish for. There was always food on the table, presents at the appropriate times, and the annual summer holiday ‘down south’. Ironically this involved driving north to Donegal, where the second round of the irony sandwich turned out to be Donegal’s apparent lack of summer.

As time progressed, and with the stork dropping a sibling every four or five years, my bedroom became home to bunk beds. The recession-hit 1980s saw redundancies and Boys From The Black Stuff type poverty and humour embrace the home. The running joke was dad calling us in for dinner by proudly announcing to all-and-sundry the T-bone steaks were ready. In reality these turned out to be two sausages arranged in a T shape.

Throughout these tumultuous times one thing remained constant. My mum. Baker of breads, maker of beds, part-time medic, full-time multi-tasker, and all round wonder woman. I’ve titled her differently over the years. The childhood ‘mummy’ became embarrassing and gave way to ‘mum’; a nice round sounding word which seems to capture her wholesome goodness. Lately, and for reasons unknown, I’ve taken to calling her ‘mother’, which may seem rather stuffy given younger sister’s uncouth habit of calling her ‘ma’.

Mum, mummy, mother and ma was born in 1951 in Long Kesh. Not the prison, but that strip of land just outside Lisburn. The eldest daughter of seven, her maternal instincts were forged early in life. Aged 19, she married my dad and set about creating more work and heartache for herself by way of five screaming, pinching, biting and brawling children. Maybe feminism skipped Northern Ireland, but mum is a mother in the traditional Northern Irish sense. Her children come before all else, and while we may not have been spoiled financially, we never lacked for love, attention or a clip round the ear.

These days TV’s Super Nanny has mums sitting their little terrors on naughty steps and favouring the ‘carrot’ over the ‘stick’ method of parenting. Most kids of the 1980s and before will recall the great carrot shortage of those times and how when parents learnt their child got caned in school, said it must have been well-deserved.

Lying, or, as Homer Simpson eloquently puts it, ‘writing fiction with my mouth’, was the greatest crime. Teenage self-discovery and parental control often run on opposing lines and my coming of age was a gauntlet of deception, half truth and wry oversight. If there’s one person I couldn’t lie to, it was mum. God knows I tried. God also knows I was caught out time and again, which wore me down to a resigned honesty. Thankfully, we’ve now arrived at an understanding where if mum knows the awkward answer, she won’t ask the difficult question.

Of course all Northern Irish sons love their mums, don’t they? A quick nose around the internet reveals all countries, creeds and societies boast their love of their mums. The most crippling insult bestowed is the ruination of a mother’s name. ‘Your momma’s this, your momma’s that’ brings forth a rage which dwarfs all others. Talking ill of a man’s woman, clothes, footie team or political allegiance can be forgiven, but cross the threshold on a man’s mother and a red mist falls that’s beyond a mere apology.

The esteem we hold for mothers is as old as time immemorial. No doubt Neanderthal man, after a busy day hunting and gathering, returned to his trusty cave and complained to his missus that as tasty as her charred offerings were, no one’s mammoth burgers could match up to his dear old mum’s.

Mothers have always got the better deal historically. Mother Earth, Mother Nature and the Mother Land have always been seen as nurturing benevolent ideals.

Father Time ravages, God the Father has a penchant for smiting, passing final judgement, and sending us sinners to an eternity in Hell. Father Christmas turned out to be a fraud, while the less said about Fathers For Justice the better.

And so Mothering Sunday is upon us. To cynics it’s another consumer rip-off, lining the pockets of high street chains, depleting the rain forests and another faux outpouring of emotion.

But given our mum’s tireless efforts 365 days a year, surely we can give into marketing for just one day a year?

A credit card company reported last year was the second year in succession in which spending has dropped for Mother’s Day. In these times of economic hardship, this could almost be forgiven until further investigation reveals spending on alcohol has climbed year on year here since 1986. Plus, a travel price comparison site also reveals our love of sun, sea and sangria has resulted in an increase in our jet-setting. And we’re not talking about cheap, jaunts to the Costa de Sol — more like the Caribbean and the US.

Considering the years of love and care dished out by our mothers since before we can recall, maybe Mother’s Day gives us the perfect opportunity to remember.

Go on, splash out a little. Let her rest her weary feet and mind this Sunday. If you haven’t got mega money, don’t stress. Most mums love and notice the tiny things. A simple ‘I love you’ will undoubtedly suffice. Mum definitely is the word.

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